Blood on Black Wax: Horror Soundtracks, (& Musicals) An Interview Redux

16 Apr

By Ed Sum and Ira Hunter

Release Date: May 13, 2019
Available for pre-order on Amazon

Blood on Black Wax: Horror Soundtracks on Vinyl is a wonderful book which looks back at nearly all the music from the greatest horror cinema classics. No, we are not talking about a rerelease of all these tunes, but instead, we will get an opening of a time capsule which looks at the unique history and artwork of these works. This hardbound, full-colour, 240-page book ​spotlights the intricate (and often rare) artwork on the LP sleeves, as well as album reviews, release details, and wild backstories.

Jeff Szpirglas reviews albums and old movies for Rue Morgue Magazine, and his bibliography does not end there. He’s written many books for young readers and is a second-grade full-time teacher. This vocation puts him in an interesting position should he decide to demonstrate his love for horror to impressionable minds. Aaron Lupton is the music editor for the said magazine and is a passionate and nerdy collector of horror soundtrack LPs. He also is the co-host of From My Parents Basement podcast with Eric Gaudet and Gary Pullin.

In what prompted the decision to create this book was when Szpirglas approached Aaron about putting together a special edition digest issue of the magazine focusing specifically on horror soundtracks. At the time, Rue Morgue had been releasing special editions on subjects ranging from horror collectables to Canadian horror, and he felt that a soundtrack book was a no-brainer. In his own words, So much of what makes these films effective often comes from sound and music working in conjunction with the images and the rhythms of editing.

Ira Hunter and I got to interview this duo together, about this book for Absolute Underground Magazine. The print version could not get into the wealth of knowledge and show of appreciation they have with this genre. With permission, this revision includes my query into horror musicals–a section that could have been expanded on more had there been more content to explore.

Lupton wanted a book to become more than a collection of mini-reviews or look at the past. He said, “As much as I love horror soundtracks, it’s a really difficult topic to make fun, interesting and accessible. There are many books out there but many are well, boring to read. My inspiration came from the reissue labels like Death Waltz and Waxwork Records–they found a way to make horror soundtracks as cool to collect.”

“My idea was to build a highly visual book that reflected the current trend of collecting these on vinyl. That way we appeal to soundtrack aficionados, record collectors, and horror art junkies.”

What can people expect to see when they pick up Blood on Black Wax?

JS – This book does a good job of showing the breadth of album covers and artistic styles that have graced horror movie soundtracks over the years. Those early Varese Sarabande albums often adapted poster art for their covers, which were sometimes the best parts of the movie (Forbidden World is a great example). These early albums came from a time when movie posters had the space to breathe and not rely on selling the movie as a thumbnail-sized image on Netflix.

Our book really afforded Aaron and I the opportunity to approach a number of composers and conduct in-depth interviews. We tried to highlight a lot of these for the book, and often the composers were able to bring a lot of context to how a film was made or how their work impacted the finished product–such as the musical palette and orchestral choices that Mark Korven was able to use in a film like The Witch to give it a signature sound. It was also a real thrill to be able to speak at length to some of our heroes like John Carpenter and Christopher Young.

Al – You will learn weird facts like how Stelvio Cipriani made the sound of the tentacle attacks in Tentacles using broken glass. You will hear the stories behind the soundtracks, like how it took three different composers to ultimately create what Brad Fiedel did on Serpent and the Rainbow. You will see all kinds of crazy and colourful art that you will want on your shelves and on your turntable.

Was it difficult to establish the categories to which all these albums fit under?

JS – Some were certainly easier than others. The sci-fi/horror subgenre, Italian horror, and rock and roll chapters have more clearly defined boundaries than, say, a chapter on more experimental music in horror films (Different Beasts). As we worked our way through the different chapters, we ended up paring down certain sections and building up others.

The goal was to have a final product that would look more heterogeneous than appear simply as a chronology of films and album releases.

AL – Yes, because truthfully what are the categories that hold horror soundtracks together? Chronology? Eras for horror films? Electronic vs. symphonic? Like Jeff said, some records just had to be there, like the section on classic Italian horror, which really tells the story of certain directors and composers: Dario Argento, Goblin, Lucio Fulci, and Fabio Frizzi.

The compilation albums for everything from Return of the Living Dead to Teen Wolf belong together conceptually. But even within something like sci-fi horror, what is the connection between Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien and Susan Justin’s Forbidden World? Musically, there isn’t one. My advice is to not read too deeply into the chapters and categories and just dive right into the book.

I think it’s fabulous that Blood on Black Wax has special release editions with a bonus vinyl to play at home. However, will there be anything for the enthusiast who wants to listen to the tracks digitally while on the road?

AL – Unfortunately not at this time but there could always be another pressing! I tried to think of a way we could build a turntable you could use in your car but Jeff eventually convinced me this was impossible.

What are some of your favourite horror soundtracks?

JS – My preferences tend to skew to more orchestral and classic sounds. Dimitri Tiomkin’s The Thing is a masterwork, and I really love the approach that James Bernard took to the Hammer films. But I’m also drawn to composers who try unorthodox approaches to creating sounds designed to unnerve audiences, even if the music is so experimental that it makes for a challenge to listen to outside of the film, such as Mica Levi’s Under The Skin, or Disasterpiece‘s It Follows. I also have a deep, undying love for the Teen Wolf soundtrack.

AL – Everything in the book! Seriously though that’s part of the beauty of getting into, and listening to horror soundtracks. It’s not one genre of music. Each one has the power to affect you in different ways–from the frightening to the beautiful to the hair raising. This is music with the potential to touch all your emotions.

For me personally, I don’t think anything will make me stop being a John Carpenter fan. It amazes me how he got these dreamy sounds out of synthesizers and created structures that are so basic and yet no one has ever been able to touch–something that he has continued to prove with his solo career.

As much we love David Cronenberg here in Canada, his films like Videodrome and The Fly owe so so much the epic awesomeness of Howard Shore’s music. He managed to add that same quality to movies like Silence of Lambs and even non-horror stuff like Cop Land.

What are some of the hardest albums to find?

JS – We were really lucky that Aaron has been collecting horror soundtracks for such a long time. He has many now which fetches a princely sum these days. Getting our hands on an original Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween was a real coup.

What are some of the best companies offering horror soundtrack rereleases these days?

AL – I think Waxwork is at the top of the horror soundtrack reissue thing. They are an 80s horror company but they have covered all kinds of stuff like Popol Vuh’s Nosferatu and Komeda’s Rosemary’s Baby. Death Waltz is still doing God’s work as far as Euro-sleaze stuff goes. They are responsible for putting out one of the holy grails of horror soundtracks recently–Riz Ortolani’s House On the Edge of the Park. Lunaris Records managed to reissue the impossible to find Rocktober Blood and Paul Sabu’s brilliantly cheesy Hard Rock Zombies, so they are a fun label.

What horror movies from the past never had a soundtrack release that you feel still deserve one?

JS – I’d love to see John Beal’s Terror In The Aisles get a proper vinyl reissue.

AL – The music in Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most important horror soundtracks ever made. It is a prime example of musique concrete, the avant-garde, and experimental music designed for a horror film. There are no master tapes for Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell’s sounds. You can’t tell me that in this day and age, from a technology standpoint, that there is no way to make a decent, official, soundtrack release for this unparalleled classic.

What happened to the Horror Musical? In Rock n’ Roll Nightmares, we have a group of films with a music focus and those that are truly a musical. Couldn’t this section be split up?

JS – That’s a good question. Chapters and titles were certainly shuffled around as we built up (and ultimately pared down) the list of albums to be included. Ultimately we decided upon fewer chapters (which required their own two-page spreads and took up space) to allow for more content within each section. A lot of these categories are pretty fluid, so we didn’t want to pin down anything too firmly.

AL – When you see things like that in the book, it’s mostly a situation where design principles took precedence. I don’t listen to a ton of musicals but there are some pretty good ones–like Toxic Avenger and Evil Dead. I have some of those soundtracks on CD and even I like to rock out to them sometimes, but don’t tell my girlfriend.

Where are we now with the horror musical genre? The latest is Anna and the Apocalypse and there wasn’t much produced after Repo! The Genetic Opera / The Devil’s Carnival that I (Ed) am aware of. Is there a reason why this sub-genre is not as developed?

JS – Horror, which tackles realistic fears in very hyperbolic ways, is theatrical by its very nature–and there’s that fine line between something being really funny and really scary that lends itself well to the theatre. The Grand Guignol aspect to a lot of these franchises, like Evil Dead (developed here in Toronto), with its splatter zone, is a real draw for audiences.

Because so many horror films are done on shoestring budgets and often work with minimal sets, it means that mounting a theatrical production doesn’t require a major overhaul of the original script or concept, such as Evil Dead’s lone cabin-in-the-woods, or the standalone flower shop set for Little Shop of Horrors.

And that’s probably important for smaller productions where a horror musical might be a risky endeavour. For every success, like Rocky Horror or Toxic Avenger, there are some pricey backfires; Howard Shore’s operatic adaptation of The Fly is a good example. As we continue to mount massive theatrical productions based on television and films (Spongebob Squarepants, etc.), I think we’ll continue to see a lot of horror properties explored (and exploited) musically.

AL – Again I am not an expert on the musical but I thought it was still popular since 1) I know people are still making them with Anna being a recent example as you say, and The Lure being another. 2) Horror musicals also offer another avenue to continue popular horror franchises like Evil Dead and Romero’s Dead films. 3) parents can feel good about sharing their love of these films with their children through the fun/comfort of a musical.

For example, my girlfriend’s daughter recently took an interest in musicals like Hairspray. Since her mother and I are crusty old horror fans who hate such things, it was an opportunity to at least watch Little Shop of Horrors with her, which she ended up loving.

I noticed there was no mention or entry for Cabinet of Caligari in the aforementioned film. Is there a reason behind why this movie was missed?

JS – Part of the challenge (and nerdy fun) of the book was debating what to include and what to omit. There are some scores I wish we could have featured. Sometimes it came down to the merits of the music, or how eye-catching the cover was. It would have been unthinkable not to include a feature on Jaws (and we were lucky to get a few choice quotes from Jaws 3-D composer Alan Parker), but we did end up dropping some titles (Death Line, for instance) in favour of others.

AL – I didn’t think it was ever released was it? Do you know something I don’t?

With this book being all about cinema, is a book on all the great television scores in the genre in the works. Is that being saved for another book? I’m thinking of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Friday the 13th the TV Series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Tales from the Crypt et al.

JS – There was a long conversation around this very subject, given the breakout success of so many new television franchises (Stranger Things, anyone?). But there was a limit to how big the book could get, so we kept our focus limited strictly to theatrical releases.

I must confess I did seek any opportunity to include shout-outs to Classic-era Doctor Who, hence the inclusion of The Legend of Hell House, which was scored by BBC Radiophonic Workshop alumni Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson. The sound design of that television show was a huge influence on me. If Blood on Black Wax proves to be successful enough, it would be a lot of fun to revisit these television soundtracks in a sequel or other edition.

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